Teachers Don't Like Work

This is what I have learned from my own experiences in high school, college, the workforce, and from the Internet.

Teachers don't like to work.

I've been reading all these articles lately about President Obama and merit/performance-based pay, etc. This would be the appropriate place to throw in some links but the only one you need is here. Anyway, what I repeatedly see is that teachers are the most skeptical/against merit pay.

I can't help but wonder if this is from fear of being 'found out'. If teachers are rewarded based on test scores and my students aren't passing, somebody might just be taking a closer to look into what I'm doing.

I'm sorry if my skepticism is harshly judging the majority of teachers but what I see in my own school is that teachers don't want to work.

We know we need to improve so we read some more books, change our seating arrangements, try a new form of technology, dress different, talk different, go on home visits, start clubs, involve parents, go to meetings, and create committees.

It seems to me we are missing the real point of education reform: the way we teach. I think it's time we take a look at our curriculum and lesson plans and begin the reform there. We are against this because it's hard. We are against this because it's time consuming. We are against this because it means stepping into the unknown. All these side benefits and outside of school meetings and after school programs are not affecting what affects students the most: the quality of our teaching.

Let's cut back and trim down all the extra bull crap we do and make time to look at what we are teaching. Am I really cut out for this? Do I have any idea what I'm doing? Who can mentor me on this? Do I need to take more classes or learn more to do this? Am I prepared? Do I have someone who can teach me? What resources do I need? How can I improve? Is my current curriculum working? If it is, then why am I afraid of merit pay?

You're a good teacher or you aren't. We all know who the good ones are and aren't. But it's hard to document those things in order to reward teachers.

And while we are talking about performance-based pay, does that mean bad teachers will be docked for not meeting certain criteria?

Standardized tests are to monitor if we are teaching what and how we should be. We shouldn't be teaching to the test. If we're doing what we're supposed to be doing, the tests reflect that. To me, merit pay is a wake-up call to change and improve or that hey, I actually know what I'm doing here.

If you don't want the wake-up call to come from someone else or to come in dollars and cents, then wake up on your own.

Teaching is work- it's hard but it's what we get paid for.


  1. As a fellow first-year teacher, I agree. I am already hearing stories of teachers at my school who have been there so long that they get away with things that new teachers never would. One teacher doesn't help with lunch duty, and another doesn't turn in lesson plans.

    If the teacher unions were made up of teachers who have less than 5 years experience, there would be much less complaining. It is understandable to worry that a bad group of students will hurt my pay, but it is unreasonable to expect that we will get our raises without a yearly review that challenges us to really improve.

  2. The problem with basing merit pay on student performance is multilayered.

    First, basing the pay on student scores is, ultimately, basing it on something beyond the teacher's control. Yes, in general, it makes sense that better teachers will have better scores, but that leads to one of the biggest problems.

    If you truly want to put your best teachers with your worst students- where is the incentive? If your performance bonus is based on the performance of your students, then you are going to want to have the best students in your class, and let someone else deal with the "others".

    It's been my experience that you have as many hard working teachers as you do in any other profession, and as many slackers. You really wouldn't expect the percentages to be significantly different.

    I know that I spend way more time working now than I did in "industry". With a 9-5 job, you are more able to leave the work at work. As a teacher, I spend my day "teaching", which doesn't leave time for writing lesson plans, grading, coaching, mentoring, etc., etc.

    I suspect you'll get a lot of pushback in saying that teachers, as a whole, don't want to work.

  3. I agree and disagree with you on this. I do believe that a dialogue needs to be started on this issue and I also agree that perhaps the perspective might change if more younger teachers were involved with the union. As President of my local, I want younger teachers to be involved so that we can meet the needs of ALL teachers.

    Where I disagree is with the premise that one test will determine if you are teaching or not. This past year, I taught to four different level of students, GATE, Benchmark (above grade level), Strategic (just below grade level) and Intensive (far below grade level). Luckily for me, it was my GATE and Benchmark students who I had for Language Arts. I can assure you that my test scores are going to look pretty good this year and based on that fact alone, if I was getting paid based on the merit scores, I could expect I nice hefty paycheck.

    However, my Intensive students I would wager to guess that maybe a handful made gains this year. They would still not be at grade level. There is another handful with whom I doubt made any progress and may even have declined. This is because this group were very rarely in school. How do I document this and is this my fault if a student is not in class for the majority of the school year?

    In my District, students in the Strategic and Intensive level have modified schedules. Many only receive history and science for half a year (one semester is for science and the next is for history or vice versa). When testing starts in these two core subjects, should I be held accountable for the half a year of instruction that they do not receive?

    Another common occurrence in my District is that students routinely leave school to go to Mexico or the Philippines. Some of these students are gone for a month or more. While I am supposed to give them material to do while they are out of school, I have very few who ever turn it in completed. Who should be responsible for their learning?

    There are so many variable and hypotheticals to merit pay that I strongly believe that teachers need to be involved in this conversation. I am of the belief that merit pay is only a matter of time. It cannot be like NCLB in which it was a one size fits all concept.

  4. @Jeremy And that's the key phrase, 'that challenges us to really improve'. Evaluations should be authentic and raises should not be automatic. There's no monetary incentive to be a good teacher when I can be a bad teacher and get paid the same amount

    @William That's true that there won't be a monetary incentive for the best teachers to work with the best students, another fault of merit-pay. What should merit pay be based on as a combination of things? Test scores, hours worked, student surveys etc? We can all point out the good teachers in our school, but what defines 'good'?

    @ms-teacher I'm not in a union so I don't even know how that would affect me. But the problems you face are real and important. Obviously there are many flaws with the standardized testing and merit pay theories. How do teachers get involved with this issue? Especially if they're not in a union?

  5. I also have mixed feelings about merit pay. Here's my story, and I'm open to push back on this because I've been struggling with this for the past couple of years. My first year teaching I replaced someone who struggled in the classroom. He had terrible losses for two years, so when I came in and made significant gains my first year, everyone took notice. As a result of my good performance my first year, the second year I was given 2/3 more students than anyone else in my department and all of the lowest performing and worst behavior problems at my grade level. My scores went down the second year. It was a small loss, but a loss nonetheless. I was anything but lazy at this point. I was very open with other teachers on my campus both in and out of my department about what I could do. I observed other teachers, went to trainings, read books, blogs, and articles, and tried many different things in my classroom. Remember, I still had more students than anyone else, and all of the toughest kids, both academically and behavior-wise. I felt good about the changes I made that third year and really felt like my scores would go up--they didn't. I had a second year of scores going down. Then began yet another year of working my tail off. We're still waiting to see the results of that year. Being a math teacher, I'm with you. Numbers don't lie. As far as I was concerned, my numbers labeled me one of those "bad teachers." But here's the thing, I'm one of the model teachers on our campus. EVERYONE and their boss comes to watch me teach. Every department chair brings their people around to watch my student engagement. District personnel ask to see my room because they like what they see. If someone "special" comes on campus, you better believe they are ushered into my room to see what innovative activity my students are involved in. I work in a safe place where people are very honest, and I won't have smoke blown up my skirt. I've asked teachers to watch me and see what I'm doing "wrong." Other teachers in my department who have growth say I do everything they do, and sometimes more. I'm the lead teacher for my grade-level and plan most of the lessons and write all of the assessments. A lot of what other teachers do is what I planned for them to do. I don't struggle with behavior issues, and students work hard for me. Everything about me screams "good teacher" except for those blasted scores. All of this to say, if there was merit pay for those who do get growth from students, good for them. I think they should get it. But here's the thing, if my job is going to be in jeopardy because of merit pay, then I'll be knocking on my principal's door to even out class sizes to be fair as well as spreading out the achievement levels and behavior problems. Again, I'm open to more discussion on this, because I'm with you. I've even thought about leaving the profession, but I just can't accept that I'm one of "those" teachers.

  6. @amathteachersnotebook I agree that you aren't one of those teachers but what criteria do we base that on other than test scores? It appears that I am following in your footsteps with getting more of the lower level students. Should we wait longer to see improvement or should we just not expect to see improvement from these kids? Expectation is a huge motivator so that can't be it. What other standards of student progress could we measure besides test scores? Student attitudes toward school/math, student enjoyment of school/math, more homework completed and turned in, more class participation, higher grades? This is a discussion teachers must be in on.

  7. I think "teachers are lazy" is an overly simplistic diagnosis of the resistance to merit pay. The proposed merit pay structures have numerous pitfalls, described in many forums by better writers than I, that make them poor reward systems for teachers. Why would we not want to be incentivized to do our jobs well? Don't you think there are probably better explanations?

    This has been around a while, but in case you haven't seen it, Daniel Willingham explains 6 problems with merit pay.

  8. I totally agree. There definitely needs to be more to the assessment than just the test and that teachers need to be a part of the discussion. I agree in somehow paying teachers who do their jobs well more, but it's messy to figure out who is actually doing "better." You can pretty easily identify "good" and "bad" by their broadest definitions, but finer details really confuse things. Also, I really appreciated Kate's link to the video. I've read Willingham's book and had not seen that video. Thanks for posting!

  9. Kate, there are numerous things wrong with merit pay. Teachers are lazy is too simplistic but is the most common problem I see in my school.

    Thanks for the link to the video. I like Willingham.

  10. Exhibit B... Merit pay would incentivize teachers to dump students who need them the most from their classes.

    Check out POd's stats. She has blogged about how her percent passing/mastery was near or at the bottom in her department...but the rest of the story is that she bent over backwards to reach kids no one else would, and got them to stick around until the final.

  11. Wow. I would love to be rewarded for my hard work and I would love to see the 'lazy' teachers on my hall get punished. I'm just not sure who I trust to make those judgment calls. I would like all teachers to get a pay raise. I believe that if the job paid well, it would increase competition for jobs. Increased competition should mean higher quality people are getting the jobs...right?

  12. I don't know who should make the judgement call either. Maybe a combination of students, teachers, and administrators? I do think increasing pay would make the job more competitive but where would that money come from? Endless cycle.